The Hardest Chinese Characters | Linda Goes East

The Hardest Chinese Characters 最难写的汉字

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Some Chinese learners start learning the language by only studying Pinyin; but at some point sooner or later you will notice that you cannot get around learning how to read and write Chinese characters 汉字. When learning 汉字 most Chinese students start with the simple 我,你,很好 etc. which are usually very easy to memorize within a couple of lessons.

Then there are harder characters you need to write over and over again – like in first grade.

Lastly, there are the hardest Chinese characters that are so difficult, not even Chinese people can write or have ever heard of them.

Here are the top 7 hardest Chinese characters:

7. 爨

This character is pronunced cuàn (4th tone) and means oven, cooking stove or cook. This character is really hard to write since it consists of 29 strokes.

6. 齉

This character is pronunced nàng (4th) tone. This character has a very interesting meaning: “stoppage of the nose, causing one to speak with a nasal twang”. Its 36 strokes make nàng the fourth hardest Chinese character.

5. 龘

Spoken “tà”, this character expresses “the appearance of a dragon walking”, simplified version of “the appearance of a dragon in flight”. Tà consists of a total of 48 strokes and is extremely hard to write.

4. 䨻

This character is pronounced “bèng” and is used to describe the sound of thunder (also: roar of thunder; thunderclaps, very loud sounds). With 52 strokes, it is one of the hardest Chinese characters to write.

3. biáng

Some of you might know this character already. It is pronounced “biáng” and considered one of the hardest Chinese characters ever (58 strokes). It’s meaning is very interesting. Biáng describes a type of noodle popular in China’s Shaanxi province. The noodles, touted as one of the “ten strange wonders of Shaanxi” (Chinese: 陕西十大怪), are described as being like a belt, owing to their thickness and length.

Even though the character is still used in contemporary Chinese, the Character biáng cannot be typed with a computer. It is simply replaced by 彪彪面 biāobiāo miàn or 冰冰面 bīngbīng miàn.

The character is composed of 言 (speak; 7 strokes) in the middle flanked by 幺 (tiny; 2×3 strokes) on both sides. Below it, 馬 (horse; 10 strokes) is similarly flanked by 長 (grow; 2×8 strokes). This central block itself is surrounded by 月 (moon; 4 strokes) to the left, 心 (heart; 4 strokes) below, 刂 (knife; 2 strokes) on the right, and 八 (eight; 2 strokes) above. These in turn are surrounded by a second layer of characters, namely 宀 (roof; 3 strokes) on the top and 辶 (walk; 4 strokes) curving around the left and bottom. Wikipedia

2.

Hardest Chinese Character | Linda Goes East

Even though a lot of times “biáng” is described as being the hardest Chinese character ever, there is an even more complex one: the Chinese character for exorcism. I was even unable to find the Chinese pronunciation as well as a computer character for it. So if you know how to pronounce it, please let me know. This character has 60 strokes!

  1. Lèi

This character seems to be the hardest character that can still be read.

It is the ancient character for thunder. However, its complexity is debated since it is the same character put together four times.

This character has 160 strokes!

There is more…

The Chinese character for exorcism is not the character with the most strokes. There are two characters with as many as 64 strokes! However, the complexity of those two characters is highly doubted since it is 4 times the same character which consists of 16 strokes.

Zhé.svg ( zhé – verbose) composed of 龍 lóng (lit. “dragon”) and Zhèng.svg  zhèng composed of 興 xīng/xìng (lit. “flourish”).

Do you know another incredibly hard character?

Which is your personal most difficult character?

No matter how complex Chinese characters may seem, they are not impossible to learn/write. I hope this post won’t deter anyone from studying Chinese since they are rather examples of the ultimate complexity of the Chinese character history.

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Linda

Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

22 Comments

  1. elisabeth on October 7, 2013 at 12:29 am

    very interesting post. I’m still in the 我, 你 and 好 stage! haha, but learning and still excited about it.

    • lindalindsch on October 7, 2013 at 9:00 am

      great to hear about your studies! your life sounds pretty exciting right now! are you moving to beijing?

      • elisabeth on October 8, 2013 at 11:56 pm

        I live in Beijing! I just moved here in July and started language school in September (just started my fourth week). I love it though… I mostly just love to talk! ha!

  2. myhongkonghusband on October 7, 2013 at 7:19 am

    for me most of traditional – I mean, the biggest problem I have is with so many strokes and having my face next to the page/screen I cannot see them properly haha 🙂 can you write them on your own? I don’t think even my husband can, from what I see how he and his friends type Chinese signs in the phone I have a fear that all the magic of writing those characters will be gone – they just write strokes in some kind of ‘proper order’ and input suggest which one they mean

    • lindalindsch on October 7, 2013 at 9:04 am

      yes I can write Chinese characters. during my 2-year studies i was drilled to do so. I even had to write business letters by hand 😀
      Of course I cannot write those 5 characters mentioned in the post 😀 haha
      yeah, traditional Chinese is somewhat hard I think. but I just recently learned that they have some kind of alphabet for traditonal chinese in taiwan!! that’s so interesting! i did not know that at all before. My taiwanese friends told me that. so awesome.

      • Eileen黃愛玲 on October 7, 2013 at 5:23 pm

        ㄅ ㄉ ㄓ ㄕㄤ ㄡ ㄝ ㄩ ㄙ ㄒ ㄣ, right?
        I can type and write traditional characters so fast due to this alphabet. Once you know the basics, it’s smooth sailing. It’s GENIUS! I still can’t do pinyin, though. :/

        • lindalindsch on October 7, 2013 at 5:47 pm

          yeeeeeees that one!!! totally new to me!!! but pinyin is so easy??!! haha… i guess its just two different approaches!! very interesting!

          • Eileen黃愛玲 on October 7, 2013 at 5:56 pm

            If I wanted to use the English alphabet, I would be speaking English. I can’t associate it with Mandarin. It’s just bizarre to me.



          • lindalindsch on October 7, 2013 at 6:09 pm

            thats interesting! why don’t you write a blog post about this traditional alphabet?? that would be so interesting to me.



          • Eileen黃愛玲 on October 7, 2013 at 6:16 pm

            Hmm, I never thought of doing that. I can collaborate with my husband since he grew up using it. 🙂 Either method, if you can speak fluently in Mandarin, then that’s all it matters. I just don’t like to talk so writing is much more advanced than speaking. Life of a introvert. xD



          • lindalindsch on October 7, 2013 at 6:17 pm

            haha i see. yeah you should definitely write about it 🙂 i would totally enjoy it 🙂



    • Sara on October 8, 2013 at 3:51 am

      You’re right, lots of Chinese people are forgetting how to write characters by hand. Some have to check with their phones how to write some not so common characters, even my teachers sometimes forget. Writing by hand is something you have to keep on practicing if you want to keep it, actually I’m not writing much by hand anymore either.

      Fun post Linda!

  3. devinfoil on October 7, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    It seems like it would take more than a minute to write some of those characters! My favorite is nàng 齉; I love the meaning.

  4. David on October 24, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    I lived in Taiwan for two years, and some natives taught me the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, also called bopomofo, the first four symbols in the set. It helped me learn more accurate pronunciation. I also wrote it next to unfamiliar characters instead of Pinyin; this helped me learn the character faster. As a native English speaker, if I look at a character and Pinyin together, my eye naturally looks at the Pinyin, thus inhibiting my ability to memorize the character. If I have ㄎㄨㄥˇ written next to 孔, my mind subconsciously leans towards neither one, and if I really can’t remember the character’s pronunciation, I simply read the MPS.

    MPS isn’t widely used in Mainland China anymore; it’s been replaced by most people using Pinyin, even so much that most E-C dictionaries are organized alphabetically by romanization. Taiwanese still hold on to radical-organized and MPS-organized dictionaries. I have at least one of each style, and I can’t say which one I like most, but I can tell you that bopomofo is incredibly useful to learn.

    • lindalindsch on October 24, 2013 at 10:30 pm

      thank you so much for your comment!! i really have to look more into the bopomofo!! i just heard about it recently. I only knew pinyin… 🙂

  5. Tevinn Richards on November 26, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    When I first started learning Chinese, I was given about thirty old Taiwanese magazines, children’s books, and brochures from my aunt, who has a knack for collecting strange things. The children’s books all used BPMF, and I just kinda picked it up after a while. My Chinese teacher didn’t like to use pinyin, because she thought it distracted us from real Chinese, but I could easily read the old Zhuyin books at home by myself, and it really helped me to learn. I feel the same as David in that I find Zhuyin to be less intrusive than pinyin.

    It’s also Because of those Taiwanese books, that my traditional character reading and writing is just as good as my simplified. I’ve even found that, at times, there are characters I’ve never learned the simplified equivalent to.

    • lindalindsch on November 26, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      wow sounds awesome! how old were you when you started learning Chinese??

      • Tevinn Richards on November 27, 2013 at 3:46 am

        It was about three years ago, so I would have been 17. I have my HSK 4 now.

        • lindalindsch on November 27, 2013 at 8:34 pm

          nice! 加油!

          • Tevinn Richards on November 27, 2013 at 9:15 pm

            多謝您的鼓勵。



  6. mychinesebf on December 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    These characters look scary. Giving me Chinese class PTSD. :p I studied for 2 years and taking a break now. I should really start practicing again. I’m a visual learner so the memorizing the characters wasn’t so difficult. I still have trouble with pronunciation. I use get in trouble a lot because I would roll my r’s all the time. 🙁 I finally broke that habit though!

  7. jack on September 10, 2015 at 12:24 am

    An awesome article to make that would be really useful would be one on ‘The most common difficult chinese characters’. I suppose when I say difficult I really just mean stroke count.

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